Around 3,000 Canadians are currently living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Usually progressing rapidly, ALS claims the lives of 80 per cent of its victims within two to five years of diagnosis.
Many people were first made aware of ALS in 2015 during the “ice bucket challenge”—a social media phenomenon where people took videos of themselves pouring a bucket of ice over their heads to increase awareness of ALS.
ALS is caused when the motor neurons responsible for muscle movement are destroyed. This disease initially paralyzes the muscles of the hands or legs before disabling other muscles in the body. From there, the illness often spreads, leading to organ failure and death.
While it most often impacts those between the ages of 40 and 60, ALS can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. Early signs and symptoms of ALS include the following:
- Difficulty swallowing and slurred speech
- Decreased muscle tone and weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- A sharp change in reflexes
- Weakness or fatigue
- Muscle cramping, twitching or stiffness
Because the causes of the disease haven’t been discovered, ALS cannot be prevented or cured. However, you can help to fight the disease by making a monetary contribution to ALS research. In addition, you can volunteer at a local ALS society or raise funds for local services.
ALS can be difficult to live with, and it’s important to offer positive emotional support to family and friends affected by ALS. To learn more about ALS, visit the ALS Society of Canada’s website.
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